CCCC 2001 in Review: Opening General Session

A conference's first official meeting can work like a good first paragraph and this Opening General Session did just that. Shirley Wilson Logan, Program Chair began with fairly standard opening remarks and thanks. She introduced the Scholars for the Dream Travel Award winners and guided the audience through the parade of speakers. Deborah Holdstein, Local Chair had a bit more enthusiasm and cracked a decent joke about age which Art Young played off in his remarks after receiving the Exemplar Award. Citing James Britton's three types of writing (expressive, transactional, and poetic), Young recounted his 30 years in the field. His remarks only briefly indicated the range of creative and critical thinking that he has created, and Young's humility did not make it obvious that his work has affected and enhanced many of us. However, the standing ovation before and after Young's speech made it clear that this year's exemplary professor is more than deserving of our recognition and respect. Ann Ruggles Gere spoke next and talked about her love for this year's theme and imagined that the NCTE itself is a street and an organization to connect us to texts. Her remarks were brief and sweet. Ruggles's cursory remarks were followed with a crucial point. TYCA Chair Frank Madden requested that we vote on the next NCTE ballot to ensure an institutional slot and respect for two year college teachers.

Finally, John Lovas, Conference Chair, spoke as the screen cracked visual jokes behind him. Lovas began with the title of his talk, "The Universal, the Common, the Collegial: The Many Voices of Our Professional Conversations" and the screen says "a 5 paragraph essay in 500 words." Lovas invited us to score his speech as he played with a metacognitive sense of his own remarks. Lovas told stories of his travels in our culture as a TYCA speaker and compositionist. "Important parts of my life passed before my mind's eye, " said Lovas. Then the Conference Chair connected Martin Luther King Jr. and Elvis as the voices that most affected him in his youth, and actually gave us sound bites from King's "I Have a Dream Speech" and Elvis singing. Multimedia is not the right word for Lovas's use of the screen behind him and its audio speakers. Rather, he used the media to create several levels of story telling and meaning that ranged from humorous and colorful to inspiring and soulful. Lovas quoted Donald Murray who believed "all writing is autobiography" and gave us his "rag bag of memory" he "dared not throw away." "Like most of us, my early literacy was shaped by women" Lovas said, as letters and images of his mother, family, librarians and early teachers enhanced his early memories. He read snippets of his early writing and got great laughs, when he joked about his early attempts to hide his sources in those texts. His first published essay, "The Art of Eating French Fries," was published in his school newspaper and we saw some of the essays and books that followed. Lovas discussed literacies of later life as death and grief, and then literacies not yet developed; in particular Lovas was teaching us to consider a greater literacy to understand suicide.

Of great interest was Lovas's heuristic device of flashing 3 lists with schools from ivy league, state schools, jr. colleges. "Resist 'liberal fatigue'" the screen then said and Lovas went on to discuss the two year college as "the intellectual blind spot" of our profession. "Select the best and forget the rest" is a phrase Lovas used to target the current ethos in higher education and to help us move toward a better understanding of the potential for brilliance beyond our top or "higher" schools. Lovas argued persuasively that our avoidance of two year colleges and the work that they do with developmental writing is a scholarly and intellectual failing. Lovas was academically generous in that he gave his audience his personal bibliography of "Two Year College Scholarship." Then, our keynote speaker left behind the fine jokes and concluded his remarks on a moral note that focused on the issues of labor abuse in the field of composition. "Adult literacy standard met by teacher subsidy" the screen said as Lovas quickened and strengthened his speaking tone. Lovas made it clear that he was seeking better equity and a full understanding of the real costs of literacy. He called for a new standard, a "right to work" law, based on the importance of writing in our workplace and the needs of adult literacy "The right to work can best be guaranteed by those who 'write to work.'" Lovas was creative, humorous, and critical as he reflected on his life in terms of his own literacy and teaching progress. Calling for professional equity in all it forms and in all of our programs seems too basic to overlook--Lovas made this focusing insightful, humorous and intelligent. [WH]

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